Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lou Costello Learns to Dance

[post 122]   

Think Abbott & Costello and you think Who's on First? and other classic verbal routines from the heyday of burlesque. Lots of intricate wordplay, the comic effect multiplied by Lou Costello's expressive reactions. While Bud Abbott stands there, calm and "reasonable," his feet firmly planted, Costello's takes and double-takes convulse his body, a quivering bowl of jello on the verge of spilling over.  More robust movement — I'm talking dance, acrobatics, slapstick — is seen less often in their work, which is why I enjoyed the following piece so much.

The show is The Colgate Comedy Hour, for which Abbott & Costello shared hosting duties with Martin & Lewis, Eddie Cantor, and others.  The year was 1952, and the theme for that episode the inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower.  Costello's going to the inaugural ball and so he gets Grace Hartman to teach him to dance.  The piece starts slow but gets a lot more physical starting around the 3 ½-minute mark, and includes a brief but nice use of the broken mirror gag and an apparently unintentional pants malfunction.  This was live television, after all.

Later in the same show we see them at the ball, where one mishap leads to another, cascading into  knockabout mayhem aided greatly by breakaway props and furniture.  Some of the technique is fine, but more than one punch misses the mark (see Abbott's at 1:51), and curiously some blows produce noise while others don't. Kind of sloppy, even for live television.

Yes, that's supposed to be outgoing President Harry Truman salvaging part of the piano, tickling the ivories having been one of his hobbies.

Finally, for more than you'd ever want to know about the Who's on First? routine, see this previous post.


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